Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Friday he supports banning hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the state.
The Republican governor's announcement gives a strong boost to legislation to ban the drilling process known as fracking. The House of Delegates, which is controlled by Democrats, already has passed a bill to ban the practice. The Senate, also controlled by Democrats, has legislation pending to either ban fracking or place a moratorium on it.
"Because of Maryland's unique position in the country and our wealth of natural resources, our administration has concluded that possible environmental risks of fracking simply outweigh any potential benefits," Hogan said at a news conference. "This legislation, I believe, is an important initiative to safeguard our environment, and I urge members of the legislature on both sides of the aisle in both houses to come together and to finally put this issue to rest once and for all."
Fracking isn't being done in Maryland now, but a portion of the western side of the state sits atop the Marcellus Shale, which runs underground from New York to Tennessee. Neighboring West Virginia and Pennsylvania allow fracking, while New York banned it due to health concerns.
A Maryland moratorium on issuing permits ends Oct. 1, prompting lawmakers this session to weigh a ban or extension.
Supporters of fracking say it would create jobs in western Maryland, but opponents cite health and environmental concerns.
"Protecting our clean water supply and our natural resources is critically important to Marylanders, and we simply cannot allow the door to be opened for fracking in our state," Hogan said.
Sen. Robert Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who is sponsoring a bill to ban fracking, said technology simply hasn't been developed to drill safely, and if such technology is developed, the ban could later be lifted by a future act of the legislature.
"There is no safe way to do fracking in this state," Zirkin said at the news conference with the governor.
Hogan had taken a wait-and-see position earlier this week, but said he decided to support for a ban when he heard Friday that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller backed putting the matter on the ballot for voters to decide.
Miller, D-Calvert, said he opposes fracking, but he believes it's important for western Maryland residents to be heard.
"I am not for fracking, never have been for fracking, never will be for fracking," Miller said in a statement Friday. "I supported legislation that banned fracking, but let the people of Garrett and Allegany county have their voice. The advocates for fracking have claimed that the people of western Maryland are for fracking, and I believed it was important to let those residents' opinions be heard."